8.7 Educational Influences
Secondly, educational changes have had a very large influence on the signing of Deaf people. Before the 1940s, English was taught through lip-reading and some fingerspelling, with the result that the fingerspelling of older Deaf people is fluent and a dominant feature of their signing.
Since the 1940s, the improvements in technology have meant that Deaf people have been expected to use more of their residual hearing to listen to and learn English. Because most schools were residential, Deaf children of all ages signed together. Since the 1970s there have been increasingly tolerant attitudes towards some use of sign in many classrooms, and most recently even of BSL. Some teachers used BSL, or brought in interpreters. Teachers usually did not sign very well and would make up signs. This had an effect on the children’s learning of BSL. However since the 1980s, residential schools and Deaf schools have been closing down and more Deaf children are sent to local mainstream schools. Here they rely on interpreters or CSWs (Communication Support Workers). CSWs are usually Level 2 signers and create their own signs to fill the gaps in their ability. This affects the children and the signs spread, having an impact on language change. Mainstream education means that deaf children rarely have any contact with the signing community, rely increasingly on the media to learn BSL and are easily influenced by individuals because they are not offered any proper study of BSL as part of their education.
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